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Beverly Hills' unwanted out-of-towners

Editorial

The school district wants to oust nonresident students who are now a financial liability. That's wrong.

January 08, 2010

California's formulas for funding schools are labyrinthine, outdated and just plain weird. They have needed a radical makeover for decades, though this year Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger unwisely vetoed legislation to begin the process. The most recent victims of this messy situation are students who attend schools in Beverly Hills without living there.

The prestigious public school district was glad to have nearly 500 nonresidents attend under its "opportunity" permits when each student brought in annual state funding of more than $6,000. But under California's convoluted formulas, Beverly Hills is likely to become one of the state's 90 or so "basic aid" districts, meaning it will be funded by local property taxes instead of per-pupil dollars. Now the district's financial incentive is to have fewer students, not more.

The school board's reaction to this change has been less than heartwarming. On Tuesday, it is scheduled to vote on a plan to boot out more than half of the opportunity students at the end of this school year. Students now in seventh grade would be allowed to finish middle school. Sophomores and juniors could finish their education at Beverly Hills High. Out-of-district students enrolled under different programs -- diversity, alumni offspring -- also could stay.

The district would be justified if it stopped accepting new students under the opportunity program; its first responsibility is to the children within its boundaries. But Beverly Hills has an ethical and educational obligation to the youngsters who already are enrolled, some of whom have spent years in these schools, where they have made friends and planned their academic futures. Exiling them at this point would reduce them to commodities, of some worth when they bring in money and dispensable when they don't.

The Legislature must try again to bring some sense to school funding. Basic-aid districts, where property taxes allocated for education bring in more money than the district would get from the state, spend relatively enormous amounts of money on each pupil. At the other end of the scale, some per-pupil districts receive lower-than-average funding based on such issues as whether the land was agricultural in the late 1970s. This has little to do with fairness or sound education principles.

Meanwhile, the Beverly Hills school board should pay more attention to the school legislation that was sent to the governor Wednesday. In order to encourage basic-aid districts to admit nonresident students from failing schools, the bill would give them an additional $4,500 or so per pupil in addition to their property tax revenue. Out-of-towners could start looking quite attractive again.

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